Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sophie McKenzie: "Be convincing ... but unexpected"

I am currently reading BLOOD TIES by Sophie McKenzie.

I started reading it in the library last week to swot up for a SCBWI talk featuring  Sophie. It's a thriller about two kids who discover that they are clones - and I'm loving it!

At the talk, part of British SCBWI's popular Professional Series in Charing Cross, Sophie talked about deciding to become a writer and as she talked about her career so far, a few 'me too' bells rang in my head.

She said she was a journalist and so she thought she could write.

Me too! I had been writing for more than ten years before it occurred to me to try my hand at fiction.

She then discovered that it took more than a reporter's brain to tell a story. Me too! Me too! It wasn't easy at all ... in fact I gave up writing picture books because I thought novels might be easier.

And she realized that she loved it. "It was what I wanted to spend my life doing." Ditto!

So she enrolled in a class at City Lit.


Hearing her talk about learning the craft at City Lit, I was jealous. Why didn't anyone tell me about this way back when I started out? I could have saved some time (and probably a lot of stamps)!

Anyway, one day Malorie Blackman came to talk to the class. Malorie is one of those authors who is famous in writing circles for the number of rejections she endured before she got a contract. Sophie asked Malorie how she finally did it and Malorie answered in one word ... it wasn't CRAFT, or TALENT, or INFLUENCE, or GENIUS. It was:
So here's Sophie McKenzie's guide to DISCIPLINE:
D Decide on your story. "I used to come up with lots of story ideas. It was only later that I realized they were just situations.  Situations are not stories. Stories have three elements: character, obstacles and goals."

I Imagine your way into it.. "Daydreaming is a really good thing." Sophie spends a lot of her school visits annoying teachers by exhorting kids to daydream as much as they can.

Stakes must be high. "The stakes have to get higher as you tell the story." A bit like rejections.

C Be convincing but unexpected. "This has to do with the hardest, most technically difficult part of writing: plotting ... Everything that happens has to be unexpected at the same time convincing." A bit like getting a book deal.

I Increasing your knowledge. Sophie studied the work of other writers to see how they did it, summarizing the action of each chapter of books like the Alex Rider series.

P Point of View. Staying in it and not wandering around in everybody's brain.

L Likeability. Make sure that your characters have something that makes the reader care about them otherwise the reader might not hang around long enough to finish the book

I Indulgence? Eradicate it. "If criticism makes you defensive or you tend to take things personally, it would be a huge handicap to your ability to make your manuscript better."

N NEVER GIVE UP.."I think it was my persistence that carried me through ... but I could not give up because I found something that I loved so much."

E ENJOY! "Enjoy yourself. If you don't, what's the point?"


  1. Really interesting post, thank you for sharing. I can easily see that a journalist's instinct would help when it comes to writing fiction.


  2. Very interesting. I'm rather afraid that my latest effort is all too 'expected':-/

  3. I always find it unexpected that I'm so unconvincing.


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